Workers in Tata's carmaking arm warn firm against 'fire sale' of steel business


Workers in the carmaking arm of Indian conglomerate Tata have urged the company to allow enough time to sell its UK steel business as efforts to save thousands of jobs were stepped up.

Members of the Unite union at Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) wrote to Cyrus Mistry, chairman of the Tata Group, warning against a "fire sale" of the loss-making UK assets.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid was tonight flying to Mumbai to meet Mr Mistry to discuss the sales process, exactly a week after the firm took the shock decision to sell up.

The minister held a flurry of talks today with union and steel industry leaders and other ministers, including Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales.

The head of a group which could rescue steel plants and save thousands of jobs said he is aiming to avoid any redundancies if a deal is agreed.

Sanjeev Gupta, the head of the Liberty Group, made it clear it was "early days" in the sale process but raised hopes that jobs could be saved, especially at the huge plant in Port Talbot, South Wales.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that the business could be turned around.

Asked if redundancies could be avoided, he said: "That would definitely be my objective."

Mr Gupta said production could be expanded but with different methods.

Liberty has not even started due diligence as it was not expecting Tata to make its announcement so quickly, he said.

"This is my first day back in the UK. I am still to engage fully. We will see how the week unfolds."

He added it would take years to make the transition on production changes.

Mr Gupta said pension liabilities were an issue but the most pressing need was to ensure the viability of plants.

Mr Javid was in Australia on a business trip when the announcement was made, leading to union claims that he had "taken his eye off the ball".

Mr Jones said: "If a buyer comes forward then the time scale of negotiations will be extended.

"Tata have a good reputation worldwide, they will not want to lose that, and they will ensure that as a responsible seller.

"We don't have all the time in the world, that's true, but we will now work quickly to ensure that any potential deal is done.

"My message to the Prime Minister was simple: These plants cannot close."

Mr Javid said the meeting with the First Minister of Wales was "very constructive", adding: "What it shows is that you've got the UK government and the Welsh government working together on this really important issue and that's the way to continue.

"I think that it gives confidence to any potential buyers out there.

"It's great that Liberty, and there are others that have shown interest, it's great that this interest is out there.

"I've met Liberty before and I'm very happy to meet them again today. But it's right that there is a role here for the UK government and I've set out how we can help. There's a lot of detail there to work out and of course it depends on who the buyer is.

"But the important thing is where the buyers are coming forward we're ready to work with them."

In their letter to Mr Mistry, Unite officials at JLR said: "We are mindful of the assurances that you gave to the UK steel unions that the company would behave in a responsible manner and would sell to a responsible buyer if it had to.

"We are alarmed to read comments in the press that the company is looking to dispose of its UK steel operations within a short period of time.

"This is not something that a responsible employer would seek to do, given any sale and the necessary arrangements and due diligence will take some considerable time.

"Therefore we would ask you to confirm that Tata will act in a responsible manner in the UK, will allow sufficient time and resources to secure the business through a new buyer, that the whole of the Tata business in the UK is sold as a whole and that you make it clear this is the course of action you will follow."

Javid: Government has a 'role' to play in Port Talbot sale

First Minister of Wales: Just weeks to save steel jobs